As one of Ecuador’s greatest National parks, Cajas is a must when visiting the city of Cuenca. Just about an hour away from the city’s bus terminal, this park has everything you wished for in the paramo, from high altitude summits to foxes hanging out outside of the refugio.
For $2 you can take a bus going towards Guayaquil. Buses usually leave every other hour from the bus terminal and will drop you off right next to the main refugio of the park, which is surrounded by the beautiful “Laguna Toreadora”.
Britt and I arrived there during carnival weekend with the plan of camping at the park. Surprisingly the refugio was almost empty and we were recommended by the park ranger to sleep there at night with no extra cost. Park entrance fee is only $2 for Ecuadorean nationals and $4 for foreigners.
We took the advice of the park ranger and left our things at the refugio. In the afternoon we had some time to walk around Laguna Toreador, an easy and straightforward trek. At night, while having dinner at the refugio porch, a paramo Fox appeared close by. The first I’ve seen one of these guys in almost 2 years of hiking mountains in the paramo!
There are many trekking routes with different difficulty levels throughout the park and the next morning we decided to do route 1. After an hour or so, we saw some waterfalls that were part of a different route so we did a little change of plans as our main goal was to climb Cerro San Luis at 4,252 m.
Cerro San Luis is an awesome hike with some steep parts and loose rocks. As you climb this Cerro, it seems like you’ve reached the summit only to find that there is still some climbing to do. This happened like 3 times until we finally reached the main summit. It’s definitely worth it, as you have beautiful views of the surrounding lakes and mountains. Make sure to try the truchas at the park’s restaurant next to the refugio!
Cajas is a massive park that will surely take more than two days to explore.
It’s been 24 years since I last visited the city of Cuenca, when my father was stationed there in the Ecuadorean military. As a 4-year-old, I don’t recall the majority of my time in Cuenca so when I went back for the long carnival weekend, it was like going for the first time. It’s Ecuador’s third largest city and it’s noted for having a historic center listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site with beautiful and well conserved old buildings.
Luckily through my dad, my travel buddy (Britt) and I, received free accommodation just a 15-minute walk from Cuenca’s historic center! We started our first day with a nice little breakfast in a place called Windhorse Cafe. Try the Guatemala Sunrise for a cheap but great morning start! Just across the street from this place is the well-known “Tomebamba River”. Carnival in Ecuador means throwing lots of water and foam to strangers and kids from the nearby school were having an awesome last day of classes splashing water on this river.
After that, we headed to Pumapungo museum, where you can learn some native Ecuadorean history and find some interesting arqueological artifacts. It’s a big museum that has it all, from modern art of local artists to an outside garden that includes a bird centre! The best part? It’s a free admission museum! One of the things that I liked the most about this city, are the murals that you find while walking around downtown. They are well made by artists and sponsored by the city government!
The usual spot that you can’t miss if you visit Cuenca, is the new cathedral. Make sure to pay the $2 that cost to go all the way up as you will have views of the city that are well worth it! And wrap up your day with the traditional “mote pillo” at Raymipamba restaurant, located in the main square! Cuenca is known for being the most beautiful city in Ecuador and I can see why it has that perception. It might be small but there is plenty to do, I’ll be back to try your famous “cuy” Cuenca!